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The tools these platforms provide afford the possibility of visualizing partners with particular physical characteristics, as well as obtaining personal information that also provides clues as to their socio-economic position. In the interviews that I conducted from the end of , there was a common valorization of these tools even though - among my middle and upper class interlocutors - I heard frequent complaints alleging a lack of "interesting" candidates. The term "interesting" is a reference to user profiles with socially and economically valued characteristics such as a university education, financial independence and physical appearance denoting participation in a sophisticated consumer market.
In short, for most of my interlocutors- university-educated white males over age 30 engaged in liberal professions that they describe as "conservative" -, work can be recognized as the center of gravity of their lives.
It provides a financial basis for their existence and is their prime source of symbolic recognition, sustaining their relative independence, their quest to negotiate desire and avoid breaking with their families or suffering social retaliation. Within such negotiations, digital media supply a fundamental opportunity to have access to male partners without putting their heterosexual public image at risk, even when the latter is merely a taken for granted assumption.
Most importantly, from their point of view, to simply be presumed to be heterosexual may be much safer than to be suspected to be or - worse yet - identified as homosexual, a condition which can interfere with their recognition at work and their opportunities to develop, maintain or move up in it.
The use of digital media and of applications in particular involves allocating the desire for other men to a space and time that does not interfere with their presumably heterosexual lives. Over thirty years ago, in his now classic " Capitalism and Gay Identity" , John D'Emilio defended the thesis that homosexualities as we know them emerged out of the development of an individualized labor market, giving people the opportunity to engage in same sex relationships within a context of relative independence from their families.
At present, there is empirical evidence indicating that the high level of turnover and flexibility in the sex and love lives of my interlocutors is directly related to the heterosexism that prevails within their occupations and, concretely, on the job. Variations on casual sex respond to the material and moral restrictions that surround it. Men who sought independence from their families in order to free themselves from moral scrutiny soon find themselves having to face similar demands within the realm of work.
Thus, what some of them referred to as "feeling as if they were being watched" or actually being under surveillance is related to a similar, more impersonal but no less efficient form of scrutiny. It sheds light on the how mediated technologies are used to negotiate the visibility of their desire for other men which in turn are related to body techniques that enable them to present themselves within the terms of current standards that erase the socially recognizable signs of homosexuality.
The first thing one notices upon entrance into the world of chatrooms, sites and cellphone apps for the search for same-sex partners is the way the "gay scene" - which includes the platforms that have been set up for it - is held in contempt. There is constant repetition, within profiles, of phrases like "I'm out of the scene and looking for someone who also is", as well as negative descriptions of users to be avoided: The plethora of self-presentations or texts within profiles that painstakingly insist on what is not wanted and, above all, whom one should keep away from, sheds light on a context of socialization marked by a type of symbolic violence that reproduces the prejudices about homosexuals that run rampant in daily life in Brazil.
The apparent paradox behind the fact that these men who in searching for other men disqualify not only the platforms themselves but also most other users can be understood in another light when we take into consideration that, as men socialized within the hegemonic culture, they tend to share dominant ways of imagining homosexuals. In general terms, prevailing representations continue to associate homosexuality with "deviant behavior" or "deviant character traits" such as effeminacy.
In addition to what has been pointed out above, rejection of the gay milieu in general, and of many of the homosexuals whose profiles are available on online platforms, is also related to the underlying logics on which access and interactions are based. In the first place, the choice of platforms may be - as in Tiago's case - an option or alternative to the face-to-face offline sociability involving personal exposure within a wider spectrum of homosexual persons.
In other words, use of these platforms may in itself be indicative of person's predisposition to refuse such instances and contacts, resorting to these technologies as a means of more individualized interaction. Furthermore, using these platforms implies exposing oneself to an unknown online public, 9 one which, in my research, tends to be imagined in ways that conform to dominant cultural references about what homosexualities are like. Given the fact that the majority of these references are negative, it is not hard to understand why users would refer to - and even carefully enumerate - the characteristics that they scorn and do not want to be associated with.
These platforms then become a context in which the user, in Tiago's terms, "relates defensively" - and, as he adds, "in the expectation that they are able to provide a more secure ambiance for searching for a partner". Security is gained through controlled exposure, since the public, although made up of strangers, shares the same basic goal of putting together a network to find same-sex partners. Whether my interlocutors had had previous experiences in spaces set up for a homosexual public or not, most of them claim to use these platforms because they permit them to search for other men who also avoid the gay scene.
Rejection of the gay milieu dates back to the late s and early s, at the height of the AIDS panic when choosing a partner "out of the scene" - that is, outside the circuit of gay clubs and bars - meant searching from a pool of men less likely to be HIV positive Miskolci, It is worth reminding ourselves that was a time in which there were no effective treatments available, and AIDS was considered a fatal illness.
To be diagnosed as HIV positive was like receiving a death sentence. Thus, it comes as no surprise that when commercial internet became available in the mids, homosexuals began to use it as a way of finding partners "out of the gay scene". The emergence of a hegemonic body standard - that of the well-built, muscular man "sarado", a Brazilian Portuguese term that evokes the idea of a body strengthened through workouts, healthy and probably not HIV infected - also dates back to this moment.
Researches done in different national contexts have similarly pointed out that this valuing of muscular bodies was a result of the AIDS epidemic.
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In fact, before drug therapies became readily available, doctors prescribed steroids and recommended work outs at the gym to avoid weight loss and motivate HIV patients to keep up a healthy life style Peterson e Anderson, ; Masseno, This makes it easier to understand the disqualification and refusal of the gay milieu - and even of the platforms linked to it, which can be considered an online extension of the former. Furthermore, today, now that AIDS is no longer considered a fatal illness and the HIV virus is controlled through drug therapies, the cult that has sprung up around muscular bodies has been increasingly associated with "discretion", rather than public recognition of a homosexual identity.
During the two years I devoted to this research, I struggled with the enigma of how, within online platforms, my interlocutors could claim to be seeking discreet, masculine types that could pass as straight, and yet when I asked them to describe or show me images of men like these, what I saw were men whom, at least within metropolitan contexts, could be recognized as gay. They displayed images like those created by advertising and publicity targeting homosexuals, men who have come to represent a model of the successful and therefore "attractive".
Bodily discipline confers moral qualities on these subjects, while simultaneously eroticizing them and making them socially respectable through their recognition as "well-adjusted". In spite of what direct online assertions might lead us to believe, the search for discreet men that materialized in the quest for a muscular body may be less related to the fact that they can pass for straight and more to do with the kind of model that they have come to embody. The bodily discipline that involves exercise, dieting and supposedly healthy habits distances these men from prevailing stereotypes of homosexuals as undisciplined, social deviants who are prone to reproachable or dangerous habits.
The muscular body is seen as the opposite of the thin, fragile one 10 that emasculates, and serves to denounce a homosexuality that is associated with effeminacy, lack of strength and even sickliness. At the end of the last century, images of the wasted bodies of AIDS victims were widely represented in the media, haunting a whole generation of men who came to symbolically associate - consciously or not - homosexual desire with the threat of contamination, illness and death.
Yet in spite of the hegemony of the muscular body, 11 a wide range of body types are shown on internet apps. Rodrigo C. Melhado analyzed more than profiles of men who seek other men on one such search site. The very close fit between the way users define their bodies and those who seek them could suggest that what lies underneath is a search for partners with similar life style and values. In other words, it is evident that what really prevails is not so much "muscular men" but the hegemony of a type of masculinity within forms of self-presentation and searches for partners.
Alongside the centrality of a male gender within the prevailing regime of representation lies the growing rejection of sexual "passivity" associated to femininity.
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In recent years, through observing and analyzing hundreds of user profiles, I have witnessed - in addition to the now well-known "masculine bottoms" -, the emergence of profiles which claim to be "top seeking top", men who introduce themselves online as heterosexuals seeking relations with other men or men who "want nothing to do with bottoms", a strategic way of presenting themselves as "masculine" without necessarily claiming to be "top" or "versatile". Quite astutely, the rejection of a bottom profile may be seen as the assertion of their own desire to be penetrated within a sexual relation, thus avoiding the kind of stigmas that are still attached to certain types of sexual preference.
In short - and being perhaps a bit impressionistic - we can speculate as to whether the economy of desire that we have briefly described here revolves around the rejection and erasure of the "fag" "bicha" , an established cultural stereotype that in our society evokes the quintessence of homosexuality. Not coincidentally, one of the traits that is associated with the "bicha" is his working class origin 13 ; the "bicha" is the homosexual that can be recognized for his femininity and therefore - in the terms that are dominant in today's apps - as one who has failed in managing the secret of his sexuality.
This is a failure frequently associated with "flamboyant behavior", a supposedly bothersome way of behaving that is expressed through gestures and voice that are "feminine" or, at least, insufficiently virile for current hegemonic masculine standards. This description not only denotes the refusal of a stereotype or way of being homosexual, but of homosexuality itself, increasingly rejected as a means for self-understanding and relegated to those who fail in negotiating the visibility of their desire for other men.
This is a fact that makes it possible to recognize both the maintenance of a heterosexist context and the creation of gender technologies that are supposed to enable men who desire other men to keep their desire secret. Most significantly, it is a visibility regime based on an economy of desire that rewards discretion, awarding those who are successful in keeping their desire and practices secret a position that brings them closer to heterosexuality.
Within the context of the open normative competition of online platforms, to seem or even to declare oneself straight is equivalent to maintaining a subject position that is desirable insofar as guarantee of moral recognition and material well-being. I have also brought historical and sociological elements to bear on reflections regarding the social character of the desire that fuels this search and the kind of economy that it injects into the present.
In dealing with the experiences of historically subaltern subjects who seek same-sex partners, I associate the empirical sources of my research with theoretical and conceptual reflections that aim to contribute toward making its sociological analysis possible. This has led me to conceive, still in preliminary form, of what I call a regime of visibility, which I describe as connected to a new economy of desire that I consider to be a characteristic of our contemporary social and cultural scenario.
The importance of reflecting on historical contexts as visibility regimes is also linked to the way in which they draw boundaries around the limits of what is thinkable. Queer and gender studies have problematized these limits in order to incorporate that which has been excluded from canonic social theory, historically negligent in its disregard for the role of desire, gender and sexuality in social life. I hope to have been successfully explicit in showing how, over the last two decades, a connected set of economic, political, cultural and technological changes have created a new social reality in which sexuality and desire have a more fundamental role than they did in the past.
Within post-industrial contexts, centered as they are around services and consumption, personal life becomes a cornerstone for self-understanding as well as in terms of the recognition of others. Work continues to be a fundamental aspect of people's lives, even if only insofar as it provides the material conditions they need to take their place within a segmented and "connected" consumer market that awards increasing protagonism to online relating and relationship. Without abandoning other relational spaces, my interlocutors make up part of a specific segment of online interaction, one which pertains to a variety of online same-sex partner search platforms.
Although these values come from previously existing offline sources, they require new online characteristics and act to shape types of subjectivity and corporeality. They undergo subjective and bodily changes through their use of these media, frequently subscribing to the visibility regime that is based on discretion and secrecy.
My research suggests a current transformation of the space occupied by the expression of same-sex desire in contemporary social life. It is a transformation that occurs through the negotiation of public visibility, in terms of exchange that involve safe forms of exposure which do not erode heterossexual hegemony and foreclude any type of gender bending. In queer terms, we could say that we have gone from a heterosexist to a heteronormative society, from one that took heterosexuality for granted to one that demands that non-heterosexuals adopt its political and aesthetic standards.
From margins to center, from the ghetto to the market, from abjection to recognition, paths have been walked without deconstructing heterosexuality as a political and cultural regime, evident insofar as it continues to provide hegemonic forms of representation. The new regime of visibility is associated with a new sexual economy in which the desire for recognition is shaped by values that come from a heterosexual regime of representation and its cult to intransitive, binary gendering.
Although some changes have taken place, heterosexual male domination tends to be preserved in symbolic, political and economic terms. In the era of digital media, the latter has in fact become eroticized and serves as a representational model that users look to in their secret searches for discreet, masculine men. It is arguable whether, through online same-sex platforms, there is really a search for "heterosexual" men.
I suggest that it is more likely that this constitutes a specific sexual arena where what is shared is a collective fantasy in which hegemonic representations of the masculine homosexual man become the most desirable object.
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And if desire can be understood as the search for self-recognition through a desiring other, then it is in the search for recognition from a masculine heterosexual male that that is actually in operation on these platforms. Even when not really present therein - perhaps he doesn't really even exist! Rio de Janeiro: Editora Multifoco, Robustez na cultura: Capitalism and Gay Identity In: Powers of Desire.
New York, Monthly Review Press, , pp. Montagens e Desmontagens. Annablume, HALL, Stuart. Sage, How to be gay.
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